I will be voting for a tax increase.
In past years, I voted against the city’s proposed budget. My comments at the time pointed to a looming correction that needed to take place: our infrastructure was neglected, our service levels were eroding, our public safety was at risk, and we lacked the funding to address this decline.
Previous city councils did their own heavy lifting. Under the capable leadership of previous council presidents like Beverly Williams, Tom Leary, and Dave Bonar, previous councils met the challenge head-on. We cut positions and expenses. When that didn’t quite do it, we increased the transfer from the electric fund, revised reserve policies, and enacted myriad other measures. We all hoped that the economy would rebound before addressing a property tax increase. While our economy is showing strength in Delaware, the 30 different sources of revenue the city has continue to lag.
I could spin the issue for you. I could explain how the tax revaluation on properties in the city will result in some residential property tax bills actually going down. But, truth be told, that is small percentage of homeowners. For most of us, myself included, our tax bills are going to go up.
I could state that the increase to the property tax for the average home in Dover (valued at $135,000) will be slightly less than 25 cents ($0.248) per day, and for that extra 25 cents per day, you will see 19 new members of the police force on the street. We’re adding 10 new policemen and nine cadets. It’s true, but it’s not the right message.
I could state that the additional property tax increase would result in $90.72 more per year for that average house.
While it’s true, it’s still not the right message.
I could state that city of Dover has not raised its property tax since 2010. And that a closer look would tell you that since 2005, the property tax rate has only gone up by a total of just under three cents (.027 cents.) Those numbers are true. But it’s still not the right message.
The right message is that we need to raise property taxes because our city needs it.
We have deferred millions of dollars of work on our infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, and curbs are crumbling and buckling.
Our services to taxpayers have suffered. We need to return to a city government that has the ability to be quickly responsive to taxpayers needs and complaints, and not have taxpayers wait long periods for a call-back, or a crew to arrive, or an issue to be addressed.
Most importantly, we need to take our streets back. We are no longer a small town. We now face the very real challenges of what many small cities on the East Coast are facing: an explosion of heroin available to anyone who wants it, and the violence and lawlessness that follows this illegal drug trade.
I’m not going to shrink from my responsibilities as a councilman. Those responsibilities include leaving the city a little better than we found it. Some of the counter proposals I have heard to our budget — raiding reserve accounts and jeopardizing our bond ratings, giving up our financial discipline that we have on our unfunded pension liability, and further neglecting our aging infrastructure — are harmful to the city.
The right message is a simple one: I will be voting for a tax increase because I believe it is the responsible thing to do at this time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Timothy Slavin is president of Dover City Council.